New Delhi, Aug. 4: The Centre today ducked most of the demands by students agitating for changes to the civil services exam’s format, provisionally offering them two concessions that left them unhappy.
Rather than scrapping the 200-mark civil services aptitude test (CSAT) or at least denying it any purchase on the merit list, the government took only the 20-mark English comprehension test out of the merit list’s reckoning. (See below)
The only demand it accepted was the one to allow those who had taken the 2011 exam — the year the aptitude test was introduced — another shot next year even if they have exhausted their six chances or crossed the 32-year age limit.
Neither decision can be implemented, however, unless cleared by the Union Public Service Commission, which conducts the two-leg exam.
Immediately after minister Jitendra Singh announced the government’s stand in Parliament, scores of students gathered at Jantar Mantar and threatened to continue their agitation.
“This is cheating. We never demanded the government tweak the CSAT; we wanted it scrapped,” said Pawan Pandey, convener of movement spearhead Rashtriya Adhikar Manch.
The agitators claim the aptitude test favours candidates who studied in English-medium schools, and have been urging a Hindi alternative to the compulsory use of English that many parts of the exam now demand.
But the Centre’s hands were tied because the commission had ruled out postponing the August 24 preliminary test, which includes the aptitude test, leaving no time for a format change.
“The Centre couldn’t have suggested any major last-minute changes as that would have jeopardised the interests and preparations of several lakh students who are not into this agitation,” said N.C. Saxena, former director of the apex institution for training civil servants.
Saxena’s point was borne out when today’s decisions drew flak from supporters of the aptitude test, who declined to be named.
One student suggested the decision on the English comprehension score might handicap south Indian candidates, often seen as more proficient in the language than their Hindi-belt peers.
Others suggested the “real” reason for the agitation was the questions on mathematics and reasoning that are a key part of the aptitude test.
“The agitators find it hard to answer the questions on mathematics, reasoning and decision-making but are embarrassed to spell this out, so they are highlighting the alleged language bias,” a candidate said. “The English-language tests are of Class X standard, which any graduate should be able to handle.”
Independent observers have argued that if the aptitude test has been asking difficult questions, that may be a point in its favour.
The multiple-choice test, introduced on an expert panel’s advice, was aimed at selecting bright candidates who can think for themselves and solve problems in preference to rote learners.
Some among the agitators, though, claimed the test had achieved the opposite. “The cut-off for the final merit list has been going down, which means the CSAT prevents good students from qualifying for the main exam,” argued Ahmed Khan, a student.
Indeed, the cut-off score for final selection has fallen from around 40 per cent before 2011 to 32 per cent last year.
On the other hand, the downward trend began sometime before the aptitude test’s introduction and has continued through the subsequent years, though no easy explanation seems available.
In Parliament, Opposition members backed the agitating students’ stand, some adding their own demands.
Several MPs from Bengal, Odisha and the south — as well as some from the heartland — clamoured for students to be allowed to take the exam not just in Hindi and English but every Indian language.
They cut across party lines: CPM’s P. Rajeeve found endorsement from Trinamul’s Derek O’Brien, and the AIADMK’s V. Maitreyan from the DMK’s Kanimozhi.
Samajwadi and Bahujan Samaj Party members slammed the government, with Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav leading the charge. On the streets, a student leader said, the Aam Aadmi Party was trying to hijack the agitation.
Nearly eight lakh candidates have applied for this year’s exam.
POINT BY POINT
What the agitating civil services exam candidates had demanded and what the government has accepted (subject to clearance by UPSC)
● Scrap CSAT (the aptitude test); defer the preliminary test — consisting of CSAT and a general studies paper — from August 24 to allow the change
● Make the English-language paper in the main exam, which follows the preliminary test, less difficult
● Allow the interview that follows the main exam in languages other than English
● Allow those who took the civil services exam in 2011 — the year CSAT was
introduced — one more shot even if they have crossed the age limit of 32 or have exhausted their six attempts
● Candidates’ scores in the compulsory English-language comprehension test in the CSAT will not count while drawing up the preliminary test merit list (showing those who have qualified
for the main exam)
● Those who took the 2011 exam
will be allowed one more attempt,
● The compulsory English-language comprehension test accounts for 20 of the total 200 marks in the CSAT paper. So, the merit list will be drawn up on the basis of candidates’ scores out of 380 marks — 200 in general studies and 180 in CSAT — as opposed to 400 earlier
● One of the candidates’ key grouses with the CSAT paper was that the rest of the language comprehension tests — carrying 75-80 marks and offering an optional Hindi version with the English — was particularly difficult because of the poor Hindi translation of the English passages. For example, “steel plant” has been translated as “loheka paudha” and “tablet computer” as “goli computer”. But this section will continue to count in preparing the merit list
● Another of the candidates’ demands was that, if the aptitude test wasn’t scrapped, it should be treated as a qualifying paper — meaning the examinees would need a certain minimum score in it to qualify for the main exam without the score helping determine the merit list. But the government has rejected this, allowing nine-tenths of the paper (180 out of 200 marks) to count in the preparation of the merit list
● Main exam and interview unchanged
Compiled by Basant Kumar Mohanty
IS THIS THE REAL REASON BEHIND THE FEAR?
Some questions from General Studies-II, known as the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT), in 2013
1. Five people, A, B, C, D and E, are seated about a round table. Every chair is placed equidistant from adjacent chairs.
(i) C is seated next to A
(ii) A is seated two seats from D
(iii) B is not seated next to A
Which of the following must be true?
(I) D is seated next to B
(II) E is seated next to A
Select the correct answers from the codes given below:
a- I only
c-Both I and II
d-Neither I nor II
2. Four friends, A, B, C and D, distribute some money among themselves in such a manner that A gets one less than B, C gets 5 more than D, D gets 3 more than B. Who
gets the smallest amount?
3. In a class of 45 students, a boy is ranked 20th. When two boys joined, his rank was dropped by one. What was his new rank from the end?
Answers: 1. c 2. a 3. c